1 Timothy 2:9-10: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls or costly array; but which becometh women professing godliness with good works.”
1 Peter 3:3-5: “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting of the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands.”
Since the two passages were written by two different authors to two different audiences, we need to examine them separately. Though it’s obvious make-up was not even mentioned in either of the two passages. One then wonders how it became an issue. That can only be attributed to cultural parochialism.
1 Timothy 2 is ACTUALLY about prayer, not fashion concerns. The chapter starts with admonition on prayer – “The first thing I want you to do is pray.” And it continues with admonition on prayer. As at the time Paul wrote that letter, Christianity had not become a global phenomenon, and the principal message of salvation was not well known – that Jesus gave his life to purchase freedom from sin for everyone. “Eventually the news was going to get out,” Paul wrote. In fact, he says he was specially appointed to get the message to the rest of the world. That’s because God wants EVERYONE saved. (1 Timothy 2:6) But to get the job done will require prayer. “Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray…” (1 Timothy 2:8-10 MSG)
But there was one problem hindering PRAYER effectiveness in the church at Ephesus and that was PRIDE. The men were prideful. They had serious anger management issues. They were temperamental. And the women were vain. That is why Paul wrote as follows: “Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want is for men to pray – not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God. And I want women to get in there with the men IN HUMILITY before God, not pimping before a mirror or chasing latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it.” (1 Timothy 2:8-10 MSG) So the issue wasn’t fashion or jewellery AT ALL! It was pride – prideful anger, prideful vanity. It’s amazing how we can ignore the main subject of an epistle to focus on pedantry. All Paul was doing was telling the women to set their priorities straight, telling them not to chase fashion trends, but to do something beautiful for God. That’s what the passage is about. Text without context creates red herrings. Always read the context of Bible passages. Scriptures are not textual orphans. Paul wrote a letter. You can’t just pick a phrase in a letter and quote it out of context. You won’t like someone taking a phrase in your letter out of context. Don’t do it to Paul.
Let’s look at the second passage, the one written by Peter – 1 Peter 3:3-5.
Again, this passage is about Christian duties, not fashion. 1 Peter 3:1 begins with this phrase: “Likewise, ye wives…” That already tells us to go back to see what gave rise to that statement. Nobody begins a statement with “Likewise…” “Likewise” suggests that something had been said before. And so we need to back off into the preceding chapter, 1 Peter 2 to see what had been said before. The thought stream actually began in 1 Peter 2:18. From that verse Peter begins to teach about duties and responsibilities for various classes of Christians. He talks to Christian slaves first. (Historic relativism comes into play here. Modern history abhors slavery but slavery was an economic system of the 1st century). Peter told the Christian slaves to be good servants to their masters, be they good or bad masters. Then, he continues his discourse in Chapter 3, telling wives they also ought to be good wives to their husbands. Some of the Christian women were married to blokes who didn’t like going to church and didn’t care much about God’s word. Peter tells these women the way to woo their husbands to Christ is through “holy beauty.”
Let’s look at the entire passage: “The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance – the styling of your hair, the jewellery you wear, the cut of your clothes – but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance taking care of Abraham, would address him as, “My dear husband.” (1 Peter 3:1-6)
And then he goes on to talk to the men about how to be good husbands. So the thrust of his writing was RESPONSIBILITY – how to be a good Christian: a good Christian slave, a good Christian wife, a good Christian husband. The focus of this passage is NOT make-up or jewellery. Make-up is not even mentioned!
If at all, Peter acknowledged the Christian women wore stylish hair, had fine jewellery and a fantastic sense of fashion; which is why he told them that in this business of winning an unbelieving husband to Christ, designer clothes are not the evangelism materials. It’s “inner beauty” – character, loyalty, respect and goodness. The Christian women obviously had beautiful clothes, fine jewellery and nice hairstyles. Or Peter wouldn’t have specified those items: “What matters is not your outer appearance – the styling of your hair, the jewellery you wear, the cut of your clothes…” The women had all these!
So how did we arrive at the fact that Christianity bans jewellery and make-up? It’s from our ideological disposition to the word of God, as well as our penchant for taking scriptures out of context.
You might also add quaint wrestling with the 17th century English called the King James Bible. This is how the King James renders the passage: “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting of hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel…” And now you can see the source of the trouble. One of the rules of interpretation of scriptures is the rule of absurdity. For example when Jesus says if your right hand offends you, cut it off, the rule of absurdity lets us know he wasn’t trying to create righteous amputees. That it was a figure of speech. So let’s apply the rule of absurdity to this passage. If we insist that this passage bans braids and jewellery, then we must also insist that the passage bans the wearing of clothes too! After all, the King James rendering talks about “the adorning of plaiting of hair, and of wearing of gold…OR PUTTING ON OF APPRAEL.” We can’t pick plaiting of hair and wearing of gold, and ignore adorning of apparel. It’s always good to read a modern translation of the Bible to AT LEAST get a sense of what a passage is saying. What the passage is simply saying is, don’t let these things determine your beauty. Let character do. This passage CANNOT in anyway be used as the basis for the proscription of jewellery or braids. That’s scriptural malpractice.
Of course there are ridiculous arguments against the use of jewellery by Christians. Spurious arguments like, “Because heaven is paved with gold I will not wear tar,” can make one wonder about faculty. Didn’t these people spend currencies denominated by the gold standard? Why didn’t they refuse to spend monetary tar! Gold to God is nothing but an item on the Periodic Table, a mere chemical equation. Then there is the argument Christians shouldn’t wear jewellery and gold because the Israelites donated gold towards the making of the golden calf idol at Mount Sinai. Only they forgot to mention they also gave gold towards the building of the sanctuary for God to dwell in. And that God specifically asked for offering of gold, silver and bronze. (Exodus 25:1-8) It gets so ridiculous some insist anytime gold is mentioned in scriptures, there’s always a problem! At which one needs to ask what the problem with Solomon’s temple was. If at all God descended mightily at the consecration of the temple. (1 Kings 8:11)
Then there are admonitions against make-up based on the fact that Jezebel “painted her eyelids and fixed her hair,” and so no child of God should “paint her eyes”. But that passage (2 Kings 9:30) also says that Jezebel looked out of the window. Should we then stop looking out of windows because Jezebel did so? If Jezebel wore perfume, which she most likely did, should all Christians stop wearing perfume? All these are ideological positions looking for justification from scriptures and they’re untenable.
Truth is, God never banned jewellery and makeup for Christian women. Our legalistic religiosity banned them. And to be honest, these are not even issues for the 21st century Church. There are more important stuff to contemplate than suppositious pedantic regulatory inanition.
If you will like to give your life to Christ, please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.
If you have any questions you can write me. Just mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be glad to answer your questions.